Thursday, July 08, 2010

Explorations (7/8/2010)

At the end of our first year of aliyah, Goldie and I started what would become pretty much a weekly “date” of sorts for us. With Sunday being a regular working day, and Friday being the “day off” (but still a day of school for the kids), we started going to local cafés on Friday mornings. Initially, we spent the most time with Dani and Zippy Lieberman (who made aliyah on the same flight as us), but as time passed we started going with other couples or, more often, by ourselves.

Friday-morning coffee or breakfast (with coffee) is a great time to chill out and reflect on the week or discuss plans for the future. It is a good time to sit and enjoy the company of those with you in a relaxed setting, knowing that for at least those couple of hours you have no pressures to be anywhere or do anything.

At times, we would venture out of Bet Shemesh for our Friday date. We would sometimes head to Yerushalayim or Modiin for a pleasant change of pace, or, when the kids had a holiday day, as a special treat for the kids (nothing is more exciting for the little kids than a chol ha’moed Pesach breakfast buffet at a café in Yerushalayim). We even went to S’derot a few times when it was considered a “town under siege,” to support the business owners and community there. Yet, for the most part, we stayed within the confines of our home city.

Over the last couple of months, Goldie and I have begun to feel that we have not explored enough of the country. While most cities and towns in the area are a half-hour’s drive away, we have really kept to Bet Shemesh, Modiin, and Yerushalayim, with occasional forays to Tel Aviv. So we are taking our Friday-morning coffee/breakfasts on the road!

We have been to Ashdod a couple of times. The first time we went there, we were so hopelessly lost and hungry that we stopped at the first indoor mall that had a kosher café and spent a couple hours there. It was clearly an older mall and kind of run down—but we had no idea where we were going. Of course, after we left there, we found the center of town, a real hub of activity and many more café options.

A couple of weeks later, on our second trip there, we decided to drive through the little towns and villages along the way. It was fascinating. We tried to figure out the ethnic background of the residents (most often by the last names on the mailboxes) and if it was a religious community or not. Some of these towns, literally on the road to nowhere, are quite picturesque.

When we got to Ashdod, we decided that we wanted to see the beach and find a waterfront café. Finding the beach was easy—finding a café was less so. I finally asked a taxi driver where to go, and he gave us perfect directions to a series of seaside cafés, one of which turned out to have hashgachah. We enjoyed a terrific Israeli breakfast at Café Hila on the beach in Ashdod—I would recommend it.

We have also been to Rechovot (even though they have a religious community there, it’s not an easy place to find a kosher café on a Friday morning since the main restaurant there closes on Fridays), Mevasseret (we found a couple of terrific cafés there), and assorted places in the Gush.

Last week we tried Ashkelon. With the kids out of school and no camp on Friday, we took them along for the ride. They enjoyed playing on the sand and trying to spot jellyfish (it is major jellyfish season here). Although we could not find a kosher seaside café, we did enjoy the Café Café (a local chain) located in the majestic Ashkelon concert hall. Situated in the entrance hall, the café was wonderfully relaxing and soothing. It was a great morning topped only by Goldie’s discovery of what she is terming “our Israeli Target.”

On the way home from Ashkelon, we decided to stop for some groceries. On the highway, outside the city and any residential areas, we came across a store called “Supersol Big.” Supersol is a major supermarket chain in Israel, with several divisions. They have a boutique chain that has mini-supermarkets (with higher prices) in the high-rent districts of cities or wealthier neighborhoods. They have the standard supermarkets as well as a series of “Supersol Deal” supermarkets (we have one in Bet Shemesh) that are a bit larger than the average supermarket, with a better selection and cheaper prices.

We had never before been in the “big” Supersol. It was amazing. It wasn’t a supermarket. It was . . . Target. The building was huge—especially by Israeli standards. When we first walked in, there was a housewares section, with a clothing section behind it. Amazingly, the clothing section carried the same label as you find in Target in the USA. Goldie was stunned!

They had everything in that store. Electronics, toys, clothing, hardware, food, and more. It really was like being in Target, something that all the American women here kvetch about missing. In fact, when Goldie told a couple of girlfriends about the store, they started planning a special road trip just to go there.

Had we not decided to broaden our horizons, we never would have found the store. So we plan on continuing our exploration as much as we can over the summer and fall.

Before I sign off for the week, another “only in Israel” story:

We had been having some trouble with our air conditioning units and had our repairman, “Dr. Mazgan” (“mazgan” means “air conditioner”) out to fix the unit. About a week later, the problem recurred and Goldie scheduled a follow-up service call (free; the work was under warranty). He moved her to the head of the line and came within a couple of hours.

In fact, she moved so far to the head of the line that he brought his wife with him! They had been out grocery shopping, and instead of taking her home and then returning to our neighborhood, he decided to quickly stop by and fix our A/C.

To top it off, they had some perishables with them, so they brought them into the house as well and asked Goldie if they could put them in our freezer while he worked. Goldie and “Mrs. Mazgan” had a nice coffee and chat (in Hebrew), while her husband toiled away for half an hour in our attic. In Israel, a service call can sometimes also be a social call!

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